An Australian citizen, living in New Zealand, massacred 50 people in two mosques of Christchurch. Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern rose to the occasion, seldom equaled by other leaders. While bigotry has fortunately been going down in several countries, it has been rising in a number of Western and Islamic countries. That is deeply worrying.
Hate crimes have increased in the United States, United Kingdom, the European continent, Australia and have now reached New Zealand. For instance, in the United States, religion-based hate crimes have shot up by 23 percent and anti-Jewish crimes by 37 percent after 2016, under President Donald Trump.
In England and Wales, the United Kingdom, hate crimes have edged up by 17 percent after the British referendum over leaving the European Union in 2016. In the wake of the Christchurch shooting, they have skyrocketed by more than 500 percent. Prime Minister Teresa May, who introduced the policy of hostile environment when she was home secretary, and her Tory Brexiteer, who support Brexit with a dose of xenophobia, have fueled the fire of racism.
Elsewhere in Europe, Mary Le Pen of France has obtained national prominence riding the tiger of racism and xenophobia. Leaders in Hungary, Poland, and the Czech Republic have also hidden their authoritarian impulse behind xenophobia.
For some time, Australia has been notorious for its intolerance towards migrants and minorities, including asylum seekers. Disgusted by the racist rhetoric of a senator, even a White teenager broke an egg on his head, in front of cameras.
But Ardern has proved herself a different brand of leaders, in sharp contrast to other Western counterparts that have presided over similar massacres. Quickly and forcefully, she denounced the slaughter in Christchurch, demonstrated solidarity with the victims and banned the military-grade sub-automatic guns, something the United States should have long done to stop the recurrent gun crimes across the land.
When Trump asked Ardern what he could do to support her, she said he should send sympathy and love to Muslim communities, in an apparent reference to his anti-Muslim policies. A polite but potent punch in Trump’s gut.
Although data are not available, anecdotal evidence suggests that religion-based bigotry has increased in Muslim countries as well. For example, the sizable non-Muslim population in Pakistan at the time of India’s partition in 1947 has dwindled into insignificance, in sharp contrast to the accelerated the rise in the Muslim population in India. In the Middle East, non-Muslims have fled their countries and taken refuge elsewhere. In many Islamic countries, laws officially sanction religion-based discrimination.
Evidently, there is a correlation between the rise of hate crimes and rise of the immigrant population through labor import and asylum in Western countries and through labor-import in Muslim countries. If a country needs additional human resources to keep its economy chugging along or provides refuge on humanitarian grounds, it also must offer equal rights and equal treatment of minorities.
Not all complaints about hate crimes are created equal, however. For instance, anti-Semitism and Islamophobia have existed in several Western countries but they have been qualitatively different in their origin and virility. In my understanding, which might be faulty, anti-Semitism has mostly come from jealousy whereas Islamophobia from intolerance. Besides, anti-Semitism has become more visible due to its conflation with the opposition to the policies of the Israeli government.
Although we understand that not all Jews are rich or crooked, history and culture have created a tilted perception about them. For a reference, all you have to do is read Shakespeare’s Merchant of Venice. But jealousy is not the same as intolerance, though both may manifest in discrimination. Necessary is a similar nuance between anti-Semitism, which is wrong, and opposition to Israeli government policies, which is legitimate in free societies.
What has brought about this increased racism in both the Western and Muslim worlds? First and foremost, politics has become value-free. Gone are the days when different lofty political ideologies and worldviews rooted politics. Gaining and retaining power by hook or by crook has become the main objective of politics. If minority-bashing and xenophobia help, they are a fair game. Increased interaction between groups has also given the prejudiced people the opportunity to express their sentiments.
Over the last few years, a number of bright spots for race and religion relations have also emerged. For instance, in Rwanda, as my friends tell me, the Hutus and Tutsis have put the age-old rancor and the recent genocide behind and moved on, logging unprecedented economic growth and social understanding. In Nepal and India, the old walls of prejudice have been crumbling as their governments have been embracing more inclusive policies to accommodate minorities in all aspects of politics and government.
However, overall, the tide of bigotry has risen, which is deeply worrying. To reverse this tide, we need several Jacinda Arderns and no more Christchurch incidents. I am afraid that, if hate crimes continue to rise in Western countries that directly or indirectly control international politics and economy, even those nations where racism is on the wane could turn back. The impulse to turn back would be stronger in countries like Nepal where inclusiveness has only recently entered public conscience.